With Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final between the Bruins and Vancouver coming up tomorrow night here at Rogers Arena, the guys over at the great Orland Kurtenblog were kind enough to answer some of my questions about the Canucks.
Here are their responses:
Who has been the Canucks’ MVP?
Plenty of worthy candidates, but Ryan Kesler is the guy. He’s been a point-a-game player while maintaining his defensive prowess, shutting down the likes of Jonathan Toews (one goal in Round 1) and Mike Fisher (one point in Round 2). His gutsy Game 5 performance against San Jose – scoring the game-tying goal with 14 seconds left on one leg – gives him the edge over other candidates like Henrik Sedin, Roberto Luongo and Kevin Bieksa.
Dan Hamhuis, a vital part of Vancouver’s top defensive unit (along with Bieksa). They play more than any other Canucks blueliners, constantly face the opposition’s best forwards yet still produce offence at a solid clip, combining for 15 points in 18 games. As for being “unsung” — Bieksa likes to talk, but Hamhuis goes about his business like a Tibetan monk.
Robert Luongo has always had a reputation as a goaltender that couldn’t get this far. Now that he has, has the perception of him changed?
Tough to say. Remember, he backstopped Team Canada to a gold medal at the Olympics – an insanely pressure-packed tournament with lots at stake – yet that didn’t change perceptions much. In fact, some folks still contend Canada won in spite of Luongo. He probably needs a Cup win just to silence the hardcore critics, because they have lots of anti-Luongo ammo: the struggles against Chicago, the botched captaincy experiment and the fact many find him aloof and/or standoffish.
Ryan Kesler’s had an amazing playoffs. What’s been the key to his success?
1. Kesler used to be a mouthpiece that routinely lost his composure. Then, at the end of last season, general manager Mike Gillis and head coach Alain Vigneault sat him down and told him to knock it off with the trash talk. Message received – Kesler’s been much more mature this year, especially in the playoffs. He’s now focused on the task at hand, not the sideshow stuff.
2. Physical gifts. Kesler’s 6-foot-2, 205 pounds and an excellent skater. You wouldn’t classify his skating as fast – don’t get me wrong, Kesler is very fast – but it’s just not the right adjective. Kesler is powerful. For example, watch his wonder goal against Nashville. That’s a powerful move right there. Not many defensemen are physically capable of dealing with that.
How badly do the Canucks need a healthy Manny Malholtra to get them through this series?
They got this far without him and have won eight of their last 11, so not badly at all. His return would be a tremendous story and provide a huge emotional lift, but that’s the extent of it. Can’t see Malhotra being a major factor on the ice – he hasn’t played a game in nearly three months and didn’t practice on Tuesday.
What’s the perception of Alain Vigneault in Vancouver? Is he a popular coach or does he take the same type of guff as Claude Julien?
The perception of Vigneault is generally favourable. He’s well-liked and will eventually go down as the most successful coach in franchise history. Though to be fair, he wasn’t preceded by a laundry list of coaching royalty. Soon, Vigneault will have broken all of the franchise coaching records set by … Pat Quinn and Marc Crawford. That’s a pretty far cry from Julien, who coaches in the shadows of Boston legends like HarrySinden, Gerry Cheevers, Tom Johnson and Don Cherry (or more recently Mike Milbury, Terry O’Reilly and Pat Burns.)
What are your three keys to this series?
1. Chara-Seidenberg vs. Sedin-Sedin-Burrows. The twins (and Alex Burrows) have had their hands full with shutdown pairings this postseason. In Round 1 they faced Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook (combining for 14 points); in Round 2 they faced Ryan Suter and Shea Weber (combining for nine). Then came the San Jose series. Dan Boyle-Douglas Murray played the shutdown role and the results were not pretty – the Sedin-Sedin-Burrows line exploded for 24 points.
2. Special teams. It’s been beaten to death, but Boston isn’t going to win a Stanley Cup scoring eight percent of the time with the man advantage. That has to improve. The Bruins also have to slow down a Vancouver PP that caught fire in the Western Conference final. In the first two rounds, the Canucks scored eight power play goals. In five games against San Jose, they scored nine.
3. The forecheck. Can Boston be effective on it? The Canucks moved the puck extremely well out of their own end and typically avoid the big hit, but against San Jose – a team that liked to dump-and-chase and get possession down low – both Aaron Rome and Christian Ehrhoff were knocked out of commission.
Vancouver’s team speed and defensive depth will get them through what should be a physical, hard-fought series. Canucks in 7.